Over the last few years, location based communities and search tools have skyrocketed in popularity. According to a survey by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), one out of every four U.S. adults use mobile location-based services. And nearly half of those users responded in some fashion to location-based advertisements.

Many of the biggest companies in the world are leveraging the power of services like Foursquare and Gowalla to provide loyalty perks to their customers. Are you the mayor of a Starbucks on Foursquare? You get 10% off anything you order at that location.  These tools are equally effective for small business owners. For example, the mayor of Pizzology, a local pizza parlor, gets a free pizza. These specials turn visitors into customers, and customers into brand evangelists.

How can you jump in to the location-based marketing game? Start by doing a little research. Here are just a few of the services we recommend to our small business clients:

  • Google Places: Google has become the Yellow Pages for an entire generation. Any time a Google user conducts a location-specific search, matching results appear on a map of the area. Businesses should always make sure to register their business with Google Places to appear in relevant searches.
  • Google Hotpot: A relatively new tool, HotPot acts as an extension of Google Places. Users who access the feature can rate places they’ve been so that other consumers can gauge the quality of an establishment based on consumer ratings.
  • Foursquare: One of the most popular location-based services for mobile users. Foursquare allows “check-ins”. Whoever checks in to a location the most times becomes mayor, and many places offer discounts to their biggest Foursquare users.
  • Facebook Places: A relatively new application from Facebook. Places competes directly with Foursquare, and has seen rapid growth (probably do to the amount of users already using Facebook’s other features). If you plan on listing your business on Foursquare, it should be on Facebook places also.

What location based tools are you fond of? Are you leveraging the power of these tools already?